Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bustling Beijing! (Great Wall)

The day dawned bright and sunny. Well, as sunny as it's ever gonna get in pollution-filled Beijing. We were up early to meet the driver Leo had organised for us at 8:00am. Except he wasn't there - we had the number plate, but it was nowhere to be seen! Leo wasn't working that day, so his stand-in (who, just quietly, was lacking some of Leo's get up and go) waved over another driver and said "this one!". 

We were not entirely sure about this turn of events. This was turning into one of those dodgy Chinese things. But the police were already there trying to move this guy along off the road and so we piled in. We wanted to go the Great Wall at Mutianyu, because I had read in my Google research that it was slightly less touristy and crowded than at Badaling. But our driver, who only spoke one word of English "OK!", looked at us blankly. We were threading our way through the streets of Beijing and no one knew where we were going!

I quickly looked up our Mandarin phrase book and said "Chángchéng" and I saw a look of recognition! He then handed his mobile over to Hubby, who spoke to Leo-stand-in, gave him instructions in English, passed the phone back to our driver (who I had mentally christened "Ken", because we never did work out his actual name), who listened to our instructions in Mandarin. Finally, we were on our way!

The Great Wall is in sections, and the part we were headed to was about 90 minutes north of Beijing City. It was good to get out and start to see some more of suburban and then rural China. The ride was at times hair-raising, but Ken was pretty competent at tooting that horn and seamlessly weaving in and out of the chaos that is Chinese traffic.

We stayed in Dongcheng district, the Great Wall is the blue marker to the north.
Later in the day, we will visit the Summer Palace (blue marker furthest west)
and the Olympic Village (blue marker closest to the city centre).

After attempting some communication with Ken (water is "shuĭ"), we finally arrived at the Great Wall. Well, the carpark. Lucky we got there early, because the extensive car park was bigger than Dreamworld! Ken tried to help us buy tickets, but honestly, the lack of any meaningful communication made it difficult. At first, we decided to walk and skip the cable car...


...and then we saw how far and how steeply we'd have to walk just to get to the start! Both Panda Girl and I were still sick (can you believe it? It was dragging on for sooooo long!), so we went back and purchased cable car tickets as well. And hoped Ken would wait for us!

And then BAM! Just like that, we were standing on the Great Wall of China!!!!! I think that deserved multiple exclamation marks, because it's the freaking Great Wall!!


We bought water from this lovely lady!

OK - so I will just put up a sample of the billions of photos I took that day. Every step seemed to produce another panorama worthy of a photo. I was concerned that my photo-taking skills would not do the thing justice, so I took as many as I could, hoping I'd get a couple of beauties.

Every so often we would come across "turrets". Every one was constructed differently. Some you could walk through and some you had to climb up. The steps were BIG, the stone work a bit dodgy and you had to watch your step.

Pic look familiar?

As we walked along (stopping every 2 seconds for me to take yet another photo), it became obvious that there was a very steep section coming up. My poor flu-infected lungs were not coping that well, but I figured we had come all this way, so it just had to be done.

See the steep bit behind Video Boy? Yep, we decided to climb that.

We're all smiles before the steep bit!

So I let my mountain goat family go on ahead and, despite recently having run 10km, I slowly made my way up, stopping every so often to catch my breath.

I was finally at the top and looked up. Only to see this cruel twist of fate:

Really? I now have to climb those? Far out...

But climb them I did and was rewarded with this:

Yet more stairs. We stopped there.

I think Video Boy found it a bit hard-going too....

I wore my Garmin!

Then of course, we had to come back down! Eeek! I did NOT like this part!

You can see the old wall underneath the repaired one.
This lady is from St Louis, Missouri, but is teaching English in a 3rd tier city,
an hour outside of Shanghai. She has lived in China for 2 years, but still cannot actually speak Chinese!
Vendors selling drinks, chocolate bars, Great Wall caps, t-shirts and fridge magnets, etc, etc.

OK. I have to stop here and recall a little story - you know, the ones you bring back and tell everyone. So, on that turret where they sold everything, you had to climb down a hole via a steel ladder to get to the next section. It wasn't that easy - there were no handrails, so to go down, preferably backward, like on a ladder, you had to get down on your hands and knees (well, I did!) so you could put your feet on the first few steps. It was a bit tricky and for those more elderly or less coordinated people, it was very tricky.

The hole you had to climb down - you can see the top of the steel ladder.

Anyway, we navigated that safely, and were heading on our merry way, when I heard an almight crash, followed by "oh my God, I'm so sorry!". I had to go back to make sure everyone was OK.

Well, an adult English gentleman must have lost that precarious footing and he had fallen down the steps and taken out a young girl on the way. When I came back in, he was lying on top of her, face up. She had blood over her face and I was at first, terrified he had broken his back.

I called Hubby back and told the kids to wait outside. One of the Chinese vendors from the top of the ladder had called for an ambulance. After checking if he could move OK, we got him off the girl and Hubby checked her out. She had a bit of a sore hand and the blood was from a bit of a gash on her face (we think from the metal ladder). The guy was in a bit of a bad way, but after a bit we figured out he had a broken arm. I got a scarf and managed to get it into a sling and sit him in a comfy spot, as he was starting to show signs of going into shock (no wonder). 

He wouldn't let us stay with him until the ambos turned up, and he had his girlfriend with him. The girl's father (who was quite useless, actually) started to walk her back to the cable car. Interestingly, we never saw them on our walk back, and yet the guy and girl were being loaded up into the ambulance when we arrived back down the bottom. There must be a tunnel or something. He still had my scarf sling on and I'm pretty chuffed that we were able to help them. 

No one else really stopped to help - maybe the language barrier? In fact, some people were trying to climb over them at the bottom of the ladder. It was a tad unnerving and I certainly made sure that the kids were VERY careful after that.

Ambulances taking the injured away

Anyway more walking back and more photos to take:


At the base of the cable car, the day had warmed up and the vendors were well and truly open for business! We ran the gauntlet of "t-shirt $1" (well, we did buy some!) and past all the panda hats :-)

And I took this for all my vegetarian friends to show that not all China's street food is made of weird meat products:

Thankfully, there was the smiling face of Ken waiting for us in the carpark "OK!" Our day was not over by a long shot! But in the interests of actually getting a post out and trying to not to make this one the longest post ever, we shall continue the adventures in the next post...


  1. Wow, wow, wow. The Great Wall. Glad you were able to help in the accident.

  2. Wow! Great stories. What a beautiful day you had!


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